19.03.2021

From the history of the numismatic collection of the National Museum in Lublin

The Lublin Museum (now the National Museum in Lublin) owned a numismatic collection since the institution was founded in 1906. During the partitions and the period of the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939), it was expanded to such an extent so it could serve to illustrate the history of money in Poland. During World War II, the collection was severely damaged. At that time, the documentation and inventory books, without which one cannot reconstruct the structure of the collection or learn about its history, were lost. Certain amount of information on this subject is derived from the “Book of gifts and deposits of the Lublin Museum” kept in 1906–1930, from the minutes of the meetings of the Museum Committee and general meetings of the “Lublin Museum” Society and reports on its activities.

The numismatic collection of the Lublin Museum originated from the passion of people and circles aware of the role of this institution in promoting education and culture in the region. From the very beginning, the collection was based on deposits and gifts from collectors associated with the Museum and personalities involved in social activities.
One of the most distinguished donors in the first years of the institution’s operation was Aleksander Jaworowski (1849–1924), a Lublin doctor, cultural and educational activist, collector of coins, medals and banknotes, and the guardian of the numismatic collection at the Lublin Museum. Before 1910, he donated 524 Polish and foreign coins, 30 medals, 30 seals and 23 pieces of paper money – mainly from the period of the Kościuszko Uprising (1794). The collection was also enriched by the set gathered by Hieronim Łopaciński (1860–1906) – an ethnographer, linguist and historian, co-founder of the Lublin Museum – donated after his death by the Lublin Library, which he founded. The gift included 754 Polish and foreign coins, 37 medals and 9 banknotes. Also before 1910, Hipolit Lucht – owner of Tanning Products Factory in Lublin – donated 215 numismatic objects to the Museum, among which, apart from the 19th-century Russian coins, there were 24 Polish coins from that period and 3 copies of paper thalers of the Duchy of Warsaw. Before 1918, the group of donors was joined by, among others: Juliusz Vetter (1853–1917), Lublin entrepreneur and brewer, involved in philanthropic activities for the education of youth and Lublin hospitals, Kazimierz Jaczewski (1832–1934), recognised, also abroad, doctor, social activist, financially supporting the activities of cultural institutions in Lublin. Apart from the aforementioned gifts, the collection was enriched with 6 gold coins “dug from the ground”, and donated in 1917 by the District Headquarters in Kozienice. The aforementioned note from the minutes of the Museum Commission meeting does not specify the chronology or denominations of gold coins, which is unfortunately is typical in the available archival.

During the Second Polish Republic, the collection developed dynamically. In 1919, the Association of Lublin Doctors donated to the Museum a collection of 697 coins, purchased after the deceased collector, an outstanding surgeon Stanisław Dobrucki (1862–1919). Its prize were 24 gold coins, including those of great rarity, such as: Gdańsk ducat of Zygmunt Augustus (1548–1572) from 1557, the five-ducat Gdańsk donation coin of Jan Kazimierz (1648–1668), the Gdańsk ducat of Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki (1669–1673) ) from 1673 and 2 gold medals – of Jan III Sobieski (1674–1696) and August II (1697–1733). These gold coins and medals accounted for half of all gold coins kept in the Museum before the outbreak of World War II.

Another large gift was made on 15 May 1921. Eugenia Dziewulska donated a collection of her deceased husband, Czesław Dziewulski – consisting of 544 coins, including 178 silver and 366 copper ones. These were Polish coins, from the reign of Zygmunt I the Old (1506–1548) to the Congress Poland (1815–1831), and foreign ones, the description of which is usually limited to the division into silver and copper denominations and the country of origin. Still in 1921, through a gift and purchase, the so-called the Nałęczów collection was obtained – a set gathered by dr Wacław Lasocki (1837–1921) – one of the founders of the local health resort in Nałęczów, a January insurgent and a social activist. Unfortunately, also in this case, the lack of documentation does not allow to determine the content or the number of this collection. However, it must have been a considerable set, as evidenced by the description made on 19 June 1922 by dr Aleksander Jaworowski, during the General Meeting of the “Lublin Museum” Society, in which one can read that the numismatic department “occupies a prominent place and consists of coins from Nałęczów and large collection after Łopaciński”.

Entries in the “Book of gifts and deposits of the Lublin Museum” in the following years repeatedly provide information on the gifts and transfers of numismatic items, often without providing any further information that would allow for the precise determination of coin denominations and their chronology. An example of this is the undated transfer of Father Jan Władziński. It is known that it consisted of 219 copper and 61 silver coins – mainly the półtorak (one-and-a-halfer) of Zygmunt III Vasa (1587–1632).

Interesting information on the numismatic collection of the Lublin Museum at the beginning of the 1930s is provided in the report by dr Ksawery Piwocki, the museum’s curator, for the period 1931–1932. “In the numismatic department, all 47 gold coins that the Museum has were entered into the newly established inventory, where they were precisely marked, and then, in accordance with the Committee’s resolution, I handed them over to President Dylewski. At the same time, 9,571 Polish and foreign silver and copper coins were sorted and marked. After numerous doublets have been found, only the best-preserved ones are being entered in the inventory”. The report further notes that it will take a long time to identify the coins accurately due to a lack of recent literature. Only the last mention of numismatic collections in the interwar period, included in the report on the “Lublin Museum” Society for 1938, informs about the progress of the work. One can learn from it that at that time the numismatic section functioned within the Department of History, and the coins “were previously cleaned, segregated, and then inventoried. […] The gold coins were deposited to BGK [State Holding Bank], where they were kept free of charge […]. In total, the coins include 2097 inventoried items, 17 of which are treasures unearthed in the Lublin region. Medals – 273 inventory items, seals – 203 inventory items, historical mementoes – 148 inventory items. In total, the historical department has 2921 inventory items”. Thus, one can see that, in accordance with the assumption at the beginning of the 1930s, a selected group of numismatic items was entered into the inventory, and the remaining ones were treated as doublets. It is worth knowing that this principle was applied in the post-war period. From the content of the cited report, we learn for the first time that coin treasures were also stored in the Lublin Museum – 32 sets, 17 of which were the property of the institution, and another 13 were kept as a deposit. From the preserved lists of 9 treasures entered into the inventory, we know that the chronology of the oldest of them, discovered on 18 April 1936 in Biłgoraj at 64 Nastawna Street, has an ancient origin. It counted 24 Roman denarii, minted during the reigns of Hadrian (117–138), Antoninus Pius (138–161) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180). The Biłgoraj starost donated it to the Lublin Museum on 6 May 1936. The rest of the treasures were hidden in modern times. From the coins collected in them, it can be concluded that 1 was hidden in the 16th century, 3 – in the 17th century, and 4 – in the 18th century. After discovery, the finds were often dispersed, what certainly happed to the 17th-century treasure, probably excavated in 1931 in the village of Stawki in the Włodawa district. The museum was given 61 coins out of 400 that were found. The treasures deposited in the institution had a modern origin: 8 were from the 17th century, 3 – from the 18th century, and 1 – from the 19th century. The most numerous one was found in the village of Witanki, now located in the commune of Liw. Apart from few silver półtoraks, it consisted only of small copper schillings of Jan Kazimierz from 1659–1666. From the given weight of the set (3.2 kg), we can assume that it contained about 2600 coins. The collection of nearly 12,600 copper schillings of Jan Kazimierz, currently kept in the Museum, is most likely of pre-war provenance. It is believed that it consists of several large finds of copper schillings of Jan Kazimierz, found before the war, among which there is probably a set from Witanki. Presumably, several silver coin treasures that are not currently identifiable have survived World War II. Perhaps one of them is the set of 479 półtorak of Zygmunt III Waza (1587–1632), entered under one number in the first post-war receipt book.

The lack of documentation of the collections before 1939 does not allow to estimate the losses suffered by the Museum during the German occupation. According to the account of Wiktor Ziółkowski (1893–1978), the first director of the Museum in the post-war period, “on 29 March 1940, 2 packages with numismatic items were taken [from the Museum]”. Among them were all ancient, early medieval and higher denomination coins, and probably treasures. The above-mentioned gold coins and medals survived World War II, buried in the basement of the church of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity at Staszica Street in Lublin, they disappeared only after the war in unexplained circumstances.
About 21,000 numismatic items survived the war in the Museum’s collection. A significant part is composed of the aforementioned copper schillings of Jan Kazimierz and other modern Polish coins of the modern period, 249 seals, a similar group of medals and only 33 items of paper money.

In the 1940s and 1950s, numerous gifts, transfers and purchases enriched the numismatic collection, which was enlarged by, for example, 20 coin treasures. In July 1958, eng. Tadeusz Kałkowski (1899–1979) – collector and researcher of Polish coins, organiser of the numismatic movement and the future author of the popular book A Thousand Years of Polish Coins (1963), studied the set. He suggested director Irena Iskrzycka (1922–2018) to create an independent numismatic department in the Museum. Its management was entrusted to MA Henryk Wojtulewicz (b. 1933), an employee of the Scientific and Educational Department. Thus, within the Historical Department, the Numismatic Cabinet began to function, transformed in the early 1960s into an independent, separate unit in the structure of the institution, dealing with collecting, recording, scientific processing of antique coins, medals, seals and banknotes, organising exhibitions, education and popularising numismatic knowledge. In 2016, the Numismatic Cabinet was transformed into the Numismatics Section.

Over the years, the Museum has rebuilt a collection of coins, both single and stored in over 60 treasures, discovered primarily in the Lublin region, and hidden from antiquity to the beginning of the 19th century. A collection of Polish paper money and medals, that should be viewed as the smallest monuments to the history of our nation, has been created practically from the beginning.

Currently, the collection of the Numismatics Section of the National Museum in Lublin consists of over 62,000 items. The most numerous items are coins – over 56,000, from ancient to modern, with a predominance of modern issues, especially Polish ones. The nearly 4,500 objects of medal art include the oldest, 16th and 17th-century Polish medals (the former as 19th-century collector’s copies), an interesting collection of medals from the 18th century and a rich representation of 19th and 20th-century national medals. The collection of nearly 1,900 paper money items consists mainly of Polish banknotes and securities, from the oldest banknotes of the Kościuszko Uprising of 1794, to the contemporary issues of the Bank of Poland. The sigillographic collection consists of 269 pistons and stamps of seals, the oldest of which have a medieval record.
The numismatic collection of the National Museum in Lublin is one of the most important in the country.